Canberra Comedy Festival Reaching New Heights
Text and photos by Kyle Evans
It was shoulder to shoulder in Civic Pub on Friday night as the crowd huddled together and made their way up the stairs and took their seats in front of the stage. The atmosphere was vibrant, and the air filled with excitement as the audience patiently sipped on cold pints and waited with anticipation for comedian Luke Heggie to take the stage. The lights dimmed and the crowd erupted with glee as he was announced. The 2015 Canberra Comedy Festival had begun.
Returning for the third year in a row the Canberra Comedy Festival is back and it’s only looking to get bigger.
It’s crazy to think how far the festival has come in only three years, however if you dig a little deeper it’s really no surprise. The comedy scene has been steadily growing in Canberra over the last decade through open mic nights at various pubs and bars around the city. Week in and week out people were turning up to showcase their skills, and audiences kept coming back. Slowly but surely a market was developing, and that’s when Patrick Hornby, Co-founder and General Manger of the festival knew it was time to make a move.
“Comedy has been growing in Canberra for a number of years through comedy nights at venues such as Civic Pub, The Front, and The Potbelly, so we knew there was a market for it. Then we decided that with the centenary coming up that it was time for Canberra to have its own festival.’’
Time it was indeed. Seizing the opportunity, the cities first annual Comedy Festival was held in 2013, Canberra’s Centenary year. The festival was held as part of Canberra’s 100th birthday, recognising that it had been part of Walter Burley Griffin’s original plan.
“It’s gotten bigger every year. The first year we sold four thousand tickets, then last year we sold nine thousand and had to start booking shows in more venues. This year another nine thousand tickets went on sale, and we’re going to release five hundred more.’’
To no surprise, with the growing success has come enormous support from the community. Hornby states that partnership has grown exponentially over the last few years, and they now have some of the biggest and most well known organizations in Canberra backing them.
“Feedback has been immensely positive. We’ve had sponsors such as Dendy, Novatel, The Canberra Theatre, Prime 7 and even the ACT Government jump on board and get behind us.’’
This year featured another stellar cast with headline acts featuring established names like John Safran, Peter Helliar and the Umbilical Brothers. Not to mention returning favorites such as Luke Heggie, Ellen Briggs and Tommy Little.
Once known as an unpopular destination for professional comedians due to its sophisticated and educated audience, Hornby is adamant that Canberra no longer has the reputation of being a “tough crowd.’’ He insists it’s now become a city they enjoy performing in.
“They enjoy Canberra. They can sense how the popularity in comedy has grown in Canberra and they really appreciate that. Due to the smaller venues they get to be more interactive with the fans and it has become a place they look forward coming to.’’
After an incredible performance from Luke Heggie I found myself at the Canberra Theatre for the after show where all the performing comedians gathered for a much appreciated encore (a free perk as part of a $20 ticket). While there I got to sip on cider and enjoy the best Australian comedy had to offer as they performed late into the night.
Since its humble beginnings the Canberra Comedy Festival has come into its own in its fourth year. With the growing support from the community and partnership it will only continue to get bigger. I for one know I’ll be returning next year.